Thursday, January 3, 2013
Earlier this month:
Our flight back to New York from Cape Town (via Amsterdam) left us enough time for a last lunch under the tree. The big old London plane tree in my mother's garden.
My mom told me yesterday on Skype that she and my dad had lunch here on New Year's day. Their traditional toast is, Next year in Jerusalem. Uttered with a flourish, by my father. Except, my mom said, that this year it meant that Jerusalem is the table and the chairs in the shade under this tree, and that this would be the perfect spot to be. Again. Should the gods be smiling.
We're not Jewish, but this end-of-Seder quote (and I never knew it was, until very recently) is somehow part of the fabric of our family gatherings, such as they are. Perhaps because my parents have always had very close Jewish friends.
Often, and through no calculation, our last lunches - the lunches of imminent departure, and the threatening prospect of renewed and lengthy separation - involve smoked salmon, or cold shrimp or prawns, or crab claws, or lobster. Why? Why the seafood? There is the celebratory aspect, of course. These things are expensive, and one of the best ways to say I love you is through fancy food. The bubbly goes without saying, but I also tend to think of these foods as briny, salty, of the water, and the tears are there, a held-down tide beneath the cheekbones. Salt mingles with salt. The Champagne washes it away, temporarily.
We had smoked eels, too. I even made a sauce gribiche for them (mayonnaise, chopped cornichons, hardboiled egg yolks, mustard). We had bought them at Schipol (it is one of the best shopping airports, ever. Sadly, the rest of our loot was confiscated by bloody customs in Cape Town...but the eels they did not want).
Nobody liked the eels. I did. Kind of. They were my idea. I had to like them.
So that was the last lunch. The cool shade, the striped tablecloth, the flutes of wine and the layers of leaves above our heads.